Why I Record my Conference Presentations

record stop buttons

While I was attending the ADHO Digital Humanities conference this summer, I wound up talking with several people about the shifts we’ve noticed in presentation styles within our respective disciplines. Although presenter habits vary by discipline, by field, and by conference, in my own fields of literature and digital humanities I’ve certainly noticed a shift away from the reading of written papers towards a more flexible presentation style, often accompanied by projected slides.

Back in the pre-Powerpoint era, when I received my graduate training, I would never have considered going off to a conference without a full typed transcript of what I planned to say, and I continued to (mostly) write out my planned remarks for many years. But after collaborating with colleagues in disciplines where non-scripted presentations are the standard, and observing that my UK colleagues usually spoke without scripts, I decided to train myself to do the same. So I no longer script presentations of 30 minutes or less, preferring to base my presentation on a simple outline of key arguments and findings that I embed within the structure of my slide deck. This presentation mode wouldn’t work for everyone, of course, and although I find it more engaging as both a presenter and an audience member, if it makes you nervous to go off-script, then don’t.

But one challenge of giving talks based only on slides is that if you want to recirculate your talk in another form, by publishing it on a blog or rewriting it for journal publication, you don’t have much to work with. So I started recording all of my talks. I just use the built-in voice recorder app on my smartphone, which also doubles as a timer to keep me on track.

This simple habit not only lets me later transcribe a talk for reuse but also solves the problem I often have in class lectures, where I’ll delve into a topic not originally on the outline, and sometimes hear myself saying smart things I’d like to remember to return to in future iterations of the class. By recording class lectures then I have a record of what we covered, should I wish to go back to it.

I don’t always take the time to go through the recordings and transcribe them, but knowing I have the audio files provides a lot of peace of mind.

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user Nicola Einarson]

As an audience member at academic conferences, what’s your preference: to watch someone read from a script or present from an outline? What’s your preference as a presenter? Let us know in the comments!

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